Originally published in GAD! Zine Issue 5. Interview by Harmless
GAD! Who are you and what is YOUR history?
Ian Wise - I grew up in Birmingham. I got into punk through the Ramones when I was about 9 and during middle school I didn’t really know anyone that was interested in the things I was. There were some other kids that were vaguely into punk rock but they were all older than me and I didn’t have any friends with interests like mine. Granted, I was very young and even though the internet was around I pretty much only had access to it at school so it was hard to find out about current bands. I would pretty much buy punk CDs and then track down releases by other bands listed in the “thank you” section of the CDs. Sometimes I’d get a record and the insert would have a collage of flyers from shows the band had played, and that was always great because it gave me more names of bands to look for when I was digging through records.
I was able to get into some great stuff through the staff of the now-defunct Magic Platter record store when I was really young. When I got into high school, I would walk from my school to a jazz record store called Charlemagne and dig through the “rock” section scouring for anything remotely punk. I definitely got some duds (the shitty New Wave comp called “Blitz!” that I thought was actually the band Blitz comes to mind. It seems like they always had a copy of that thing!), but I’d be able to find some decent stuff there and I still remember getting home with records by DOA, Conflict, and Thee Headcoats on vinyl and listening to them sitting in front of my Dad’s old turntable.
I was able to meet more people that were into punk when I was around 13, and it opened me up to a lot of different kinds of punk and points of view. When I was 14 I started playing in my first actual band, Seven Come Eleven, and through that band I was able to meet a lot of older guys that were hanging around at this club called the Boiler Room. I was the annoying kid always asking for mix tapes, but pestering folks always paid off because I got into a ton of old shit through those guys, and bands like Warzone, the Effigies, Cro-Mags, and Zero Boys became the shit I would listen to through headphones with my hood popped up over my head in school all day.
At the time, I was still somehow convinced that the only scenes that had ever produced good music were in California, NYC (though just the skinhead bands, I wasn’t even hip to shit like Born Against or Conniption yet), or Chicago. I hadn’t even heard any of the killer Florida bands from the 80s like Belching Penguin or Hated Youth yet, so thinking that anything had ever come out of Alabama that was substantial was something that was more like a dream than anything else. Of course my opinion was negatively influenced by the fact that there wasn’t a lot of stuff happening locally that interested me. Random Conflict were around and were still doing more of the street punk thing (before going back to their more crossover style), and Truth Serum (now Skeptic?) were around, but the bulk of the scene seemed to more about the moshy Victory/Ferret Records style stuff that was trendy at the time and that music also came with a lot of shitty attitudes. Screamo was also a big deal in Alabama at the time (through Blue Eyed Boy Mister Death and probably the state’s vague connection to Orchid) and I honestly just didn’t have the taste for it yet.
When I was 15 I started a new band called Korova that was just a straight hardcore band. We were really into stuff like Negative Approach at the time and I guess that is what came out most in the sound. I started writing letters to bands in Maximum Rock n Roll and trying to get them to come to Birmingham. It was difficult, but my name got around and within a couple of years I had booked some really fantastic bands current like the Hudson Falcons, I Object, Bones Brigade, Adolf and the Piss Artists, and a ton more. I had the privilege of getting to meet a lot of people in bands I loved and play shows with them. By the time I was 16 I pretty much ate and slept hardcore punk. I had a job all through high school and saved up money to buy records from every band I saw and always spent a ton of money when bands would come through with distros. I spent pretty much all my free time booking shows or playing music. In 2004 I put together a CD called “We Did It Our Own Way” of all punk bands from Alabama and used that to try and promote the scene within the state and it seemed to work. Korova ended up putting out some records, including a 7” of stuff that was recorded when we were 15/16 called “If There is a Future”.
Southern punk was something I was getting more interested in at the time. The whole GMM Records scene in Atlanta was a big deal to me and getting to hear bands like the Anti-Heroes and see the influence they had from their dark corner of the US was inspiring. That was also around the time I got into the old Florida stuff and a band from Tennessee called Koro that had put out one of the most mind-blowing USHC 7”s of the 80s.
I ended up moving to Illinois when I was 18 and was gone from Alabama for a couple of years. I went back when I was 21 and there were a lot more really great bands but the scene seemed fractured. I was only around for a while and I’ve been back in Chicago for over two years now. Being away from the state has helped me sort of figure out how the South has influenced me as a person, and I guess that’s part of why I wanted to do the “History of…” LP.
GAD!- What is "A History of Punk Rock in Alabama"? What are your goals with this project?
Wise - I had the original idea close to 10 years ago after I first did the “We Did It Our Own Way” compilation CD. At the time I was really young and didn’t know how much actual music there was from the state. I knew Random Conflict had been around in the late 80s and the Vomit Spots from Mobile had put out a good 7” in 1987, but outside of that not a lot had survived. It wasn’t until years later that I got really serious about tracking down certain releases and trying to really dig up punk from the state that I got turned onto some really cool things.
The idea sort of faded away until a couple of years ago when someone asked me if there had ever been a “Bloodstains” comp that specifically collected music from the South. I knew that the first in the series had focused on Texas and there was a “Killed By Death” bootleg of Florida bands. When I dug deeper, I found that not only had there never been a record specific to other states in the South, but on all of those bootlegs nothing had ever been comped from Alabama at all. An early Mississippi band called Ed Nasty and the Dopeds had made it onto a volume of Killed By Death, but that was as close as we got. In fact, the more I looked at any sort of “Southern” compilation, Alabama was pretty much always ignored. The “Destroying Southern Tradition”, “Southeast Hardcore, Fuck Yeah!”, and “The South Will Rise Again” comps all skipped Alabama bands.
That’s when I decided to seriously start putting together this record. The major influence has definitely been the “Bloodstains” series, but also the “Southern Heritage” records and of course the Numero Group reissues. My goals are to put out a record that I would have wanted to put on the turntable when I was 12 years old and felt totally alienated. I honestly don’t care too much about changing people’s minds about the state I grew up in because I am so over apologizing for it or caring about what anyone else thinks. I am putting this out for kids that will be digging through records at some shop in Huntsville 15 years from now so they can take it home and feel the rush of hearing these crazy recordings from their home state for the first time.
GAD! - Why do you think punk rock from 'bama has typically received so little exposure ?
Wise - Because we are all broke as fuck. That’s to start with anyway. We didn’t have resources (like labels to put out our records, larger "established" venues). Big cities/scenes do have larger support systems and some more affluent participants. On the rare occasions a band was able to scrape up money from their pizza delivery jobs and put out their own record, they were almost never able to tour on them and sell copies. And then there is the obvious answer of people just judging us because of where we’re from. I’m not basing that on some paranoia, I’m saying that because I’ve literally been told that by some of the bigger distributors of “punk” records. It all comes down to snobby people who think that they’re better or more cultured because they live in the Bay area or some crust haven or whatever.
The thing that really sucks about all that is that almost everyone living in Brooklyn or Berkley came from somewhere else that was probably a small scene and a lot of them now feel advantaged because of where they are. DIY punk culture is just as pretentious and full of assholes as Fox News or Whole Foods corporate; there is just this idea that it’s different because we’re not making any money and are instead dealing in ego. I don’t mean to make blanket statements because I know what I just said certainly doesn’t apply to a lot of people in those places, but I mean, come on. You can run a distro selling nothing but third generation bootlegs of late 80s Japanese noise bands no one has ever heard of and sell everything out overnight, but if you told people those same recordings were Alabama bands people would just shrug and walk away.
It honestly used to really bother me, but hey….I grew up where I grew up and I honestly think I’m a better person for it. From a more broad cultural standpoint, there is this attitude I've been confronted with (even/especially in the punk scene) that because of the history of the South people assume I am racist or otherwise intellectually stunted when they find out I'm from Alabama. The truth is that yeah, the South has a lot of really terrible things going on, but so does Chicago and New York and San Francisco. And if someone is going to judge me or someone else because we came up in a fucked up place when they won’t even look around and take responsibility for the things going on where they are just because they are stuck in some hipster art scene on the West Coast then I honestly don’t see how we would have anything in common anyway.
GAD! - Who are some of your fave Alabama bands?
Wise - Now I Have a Machine Gun are my favorite Alabama band and possibly my favorite band from anywhere. When you look back on your life and all the shows you’ve seen and records you’ve bought you realize that what matters more than anything is what a band meant to you at a certain time and place in your life. I guess in the end part of being punk is that your favorite bands will always be the ones that were made up of your friends because every stupid thing you ever did, every fight you ever got into, and every substantial conversation you had are in those songs. Of course, there were other great Birmingham bands from the same time period that were and still are really important to me like Legion and Ex Members or the Holy Trinity, but Now I Have a Machine Gun are a band that still feels personal and intimate to me.
For older bands, Green Beret are one of the best. Random Conflict was a huge influence on me as a kid and I will never forget all the great times I had seeing them. Punks in Alabama owe Random Conflict a great debt. GNP and the Knockabouts are bands who never got the recognition they deserved either. Without the Knockabouts there’s no telling where punk in Alabama would have wound up. Honestly, there are too many to go through, which is why I just want to put them all on an LP and have people pick through them for themselves.
GAD! - What would you like to see happen with underground music in the south?
Wise - It doesn’t really matter what I think, because there will always be some 14 year-old kid with a shaved head making music with his friends and trying to figure shit by fucking up a lot. That kids got it right. I’m just some guy who’s getting older.